The Internet has become an integral part of our lives. Today, no one can imagine living an offline life. These days, everything happens at the tap of a finger, from discovering new information to conducting banking transactions. But with the immense convenience comes a whole new world of troubles.
Since the Internet is a public utility, it comes with inherent risks like data breaches and IP and DNS hacks that can cause considerable financial loss to individuals and organizations. Internet connectivity is open to hacking, regardless of what firewalls and anti-virus software you install on your device unless you employ good network security software.
Network security software and tools safeguard the information that goes out of your system and into the open Internet. Think of them as the reverse force of anti-virus software you install on your PC, laptop, or smartphone. Just like anti-virus software prevents viruses from entering your device, network security software prevents hackers from stealing data from your device. This ensures that your login credentials, banking details, etc., don’t get into the wrong hands.
This post will shed light on the best network security mechanism. What is a virtual private network, or what is a VPN service? Allow us to introduce you to some of the basic concepts of VPNs.
First things first – What is VPN? What is VPN used for?
A VPN, as already hinted at, is a mechanism that secures your Internet connection. When you use a VPN, all data you share over the Internet is sent through an encrypted virtual tunnel so unintended people can make no sense of it. Special keys can only decrypt this encrypted data that the intended recipient possesses; thus, unauthorized people can’t use it in any way. In addition to enforcing data privacy, this cycle eliminates the risk of anyone finding your geographic location through your device’s IP address since it’s masked and can’t be traced easily. In this way, VPN software provides you with invaluable security and privacy.
VPN apps can be installed on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other device. A VPN service provider typically has servers located at diverse geographical locations. When you establish a VPN connection (secure virtual tunnel) with another computer, the connection can be hosted on any geographical server that belongs to your VPN provider. So, for example, if your VPN connection is being hosted by a UK server, to anyone who wishes to trace your IP address, it will appear that you’re located in the UK. With this advantage by your side, you can even access websites that are only meant for the UK and that you can’t usually access from your home country.
How does a VPN work?
Your ISP facilitates your Internet connection. And as such, even if you don’t realize it, the record of all your online activity is stored on the ISP’s server, which is also responsible for directing data toward your device.
Suppose you wish to watch a video on YouTube on your device. You’ll type the URL in your web browser and hit Enter key (or use the YouTube app to browse, select, and then play). This will send a request to your ISP server, which will send a request to YouTube’s server. Then the ISP server’s data received from the YouTube server will be directed to your device.
If your country’s governing authority has restricted any specific content, your ISP will prevent you from accessing it. For example, if you’re trying to view some YouTube content that your government blocks, even though the YouTube server will send the data to your ISP server (because it’s located outside the country and your country restrictions don’t apply to it), your ISP server will block the content. You won’t be able to watch it.
Now consider the same scenario again, but with the difference that you’re using a VPN to access blocked YouTube content. This is how the process will flow in this case.
Your VPN service provider will prompt you to access one of its servers when you request to establish a secure connection. Selecting a specific VPN server will treat you as part of its local network for that server. For example, if you select a VPN server in the US, it will treat you as a local US resident. Now when you access YouTube, your ISP will know that the connection is coming from a VPN server, but since the VPN will replace your IP address with its custom address (which will be located in the US), the blocked content will be successfully routed to your device. So basically, the VPN service provider will create a secure channel between YouTube’s server and your device and route the blocked content. In this way, although your ISP will know that you’re using a VPN service, it won’t be able to know what data you’re accessing through it since it will be transmitted through an encrypted channel.
VPNs are the most secure way to exchange confidential data, for example, company documents and project details, government contracts, banking transaction details, etc.
Types of VPN
There are three main types of VPN. Let’s learn about all three types:
1. SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer virtual private network)
In SSL VPN, a secure and encrypted connection is created using the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol or, its successor, the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol over a less-secure network to provide secure, remote access VPN capability. The prerequisite of an SSL VPN connection is usually a browser that is HTML-5-capable which is available for almost all operating systems. Access to SSL VPN is secured with a username and password.
2. Site-to-site VPN
A connection between two or more networks is called a site-to-site VPN. Large businesses that have many offices in different locations, use site-to-site VPNs to gain access to and use the corporate network on a regular basis. However, the implementation of site-to-site VPN is a bit complicated in comparison to SSL VPN.
3. Client-to-Server VPN
This type of VPN connection is generally created between an individual user and a remote network with the help of an application. This VPN type is very common for those who provide insecure public WLAN. Client-to–server VPN prevents third parties from gaining access to the network connection by encrypting data up to the provider. This type of VPN connection also stops ISPs from accessing data. The prerequisite for a client-to-server VPN connection is an appropriate telephone system with a headset.
What are the different benefits of using a VPN?
Not every country in the world allows you to access every website. Some geographical locations have strict Internet censorships that prevent you from accessing certain websites. Even if you try to access such websites in such countries, the authorities can track your activities and put you behind bars for breach.
VPN technology has evolved over the recent years in terms of its ability to bypass Internet censorship without leaving a trace. A VPN allows you to access prohibited websites without the risk of getting caught.
Additionally, here are some more uses of VPNs:
- To unlock geographically restricted services, like streaming websites and entertainment channels, in your home country where they might not be available.
- To hide your true location and gain anonymity while surfing the Internet.
- To protect yourself from hacking when accessing public Wi-Fi hot spots.
- To maintain secrecy while uploading or downloading content through torrent.
- To safeguard your private data, like bank details and passwords, when logging in to different accounts.
- To save money on air tickets and online purchases by emulating the IP addresses of different countries.
- To access business networks when accessing company information from a different location.
Are VPNs Safe?
VPNs are generally considered safe to use as they can secure your Internet connection and data during transmission over unknown networks. However, the fact is that they’re not 100% foolproof.
Like any other software, VPNs can have bugs that hackers can exploit. There are around 200+ VPN tools available online, all boasting of offering Internet users the best security and privacy. But you shouldn’t get carried away by these tall claims; instead, look for a service that offers the best security, privacy, and features to make Internet surfing easy.
According to security experts, you should avoid free VPN services as they might be loaded with malware. Many scammers are trying to entice people by offering premium services at attractive prices. While you may be tempted to opt for such services, you shouldn’t spend money without reading reviews or conducting thorough research.
Is using a VPN legal?
The laws that govern Internet usage change with each country. In the US and even some European countries, the law allows you to use VPNs without restrictions since they’re considered legitimate tools. However, in Middle Eastern countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and a few more, VPN is seen as a piece of software used to bypass Internet censorship in that country. Hence, most Middle Eastern countries block access to VPN websites. Even so, many residents and visitors to Gulf countries use VPNs to access region-locked content at their own risk.
Are VPNs easy to use?
Although the underlying function of a VPN might be a little technical to understand, the interface of most VPN services is very easy to use. Since most end-users of VPNs are people having limited technical expertise who just wish to unblock geographically restricted content, VPN service providers take special care to make their service user-friendly.
In most cases, use a VPN:
- You need to install the software provided by the VPN service provider. If you aren’t comfortable with personalized settings, you can go with default options during the installation, and everything will still work fine.
- Once the software is installed, you will be prompted to create a username and password to access the VPN server.
- After that, depending on your surfing needs, you can select any VPN server (geographical location). You can save your location preferences in the software or choose a new VPN server location every time.
- Once the connection is established, you can surf the Internet normally. The VPN works in the background to secure your Internet connection and keep your identity and data safe.
Leading VPN service providers give you the option to choose between free and premium accounts. Free accounts have daily data limits, and you can’t use the VPN service until the next day when your data limit is renewed. Free accounts also have limitations on the VPN server locations you can choose. On the other hand, premium users don’t have to face any kind of limitations while using the service. There are no data limits, and you have wider options in terms of server locations.
Do VPNs guarantee 100% anonymity?
Even though they theoretically should, the fact is that VPNs don’t guarantee 100% anonymity.
If you think that all you need to do is use a VPN to hide your nefarious activities, you should be ready for a surprise when law agencies come knocking on your door! Top-notch security agencies like the NSA use advanced networking and surveillance software that make 100% Internet anonymity an impossible dream.
However, if you plan to use a VPN for harmless purposes like accessing geo-restricted websites or watching geo-locked content on streaming services, there’s nothing to worry about. These activities aren’t considered criminal, so you can continue using VPNs for them.
It’s better to use new VPN protocols like SSTP, IKEV2, or WireGuard to have better security.
VPN performance and speed
Many things are working in the background when you’re using a VPN. The VPN software establishes a secure tunnel to send your data and then encrypts and decrypts the data on the go. All this needs a lot of processor power and Internet speed. So if you have a limited bandwidth connection, you will naturally experience a slight decrease in Internet speed and reduced computer performance when using a VPN. However, this is true for basic computers with limited RAM and processing power. If you have a laptop with a fast processor and loads of RAM, you might hardly notice any degradation in performance.
To ensure you enjoy the fastest VPN speed, always choose a VPN server close to your location. You can select a VPN server in your home country if you only want security and privacy. However, if you want to access blocked content, you can select a server in your neighboring country where the content you want isn’t blocked.
How to Choose the Best VPN
Choosing the best VPN to maintain your privacy while you browse the Internet, shop online, or use banking services becomes difficult when numerous options are available. Here is how you can choose the best VPN for yourself.
- Find out your needs: Before beginning your search for the best VPN for your business or personal use, devote some time to identifying why you need a VPN. Maybe you use public Wi-Fi a lot and want to hide your private information or data from others, or working from home and do not want to share your browsing history with your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The reason can be anything, identify it, and then proceed.
- Determine your priorities: Some VPNs are best known for their security, others for speed, accessibility, customer support, compatibility, or user interface. Find out what is your priority, and then choose the best VPN accordingly.
- Cost factor: VPNs are available for free also but we would not recommend you to go for them as they come with limited features and functionalities. So, search for a paid VPN on the basis of your needs, priorities, and what you can afford. The cost of getting a VPN can range anywhere from $5 to $12 per month. Some VPN service providers are even offering annual and lifetime plans.
How to set up a VPN on Windows, Mac, and Android
Steps to install and set up a VPN on Windows:
- Choose a VPN service provider that offers VPN for Windows.
- Subscribe to the VPN, and set up your account and password.
- Download the VPN’s executable file from its official website.
- Locate and double-click on the .exe file to install the machine on your Windows system.
- Agree to install the required components.
- Double-click on the icon of the installed VPN on your desktop.
- Log in using your username and password.
- Once logged in, you are ready to connect to the VPN server of your desired country.
Follow the below-given steps to Install and set up a VPN on Mac:
- Choose and install a macOS-specific VPN on your computer.
- Install the Mac app by double-clicking on the .dmg file.
- Once the application is installed, run the app by using your account details.
- Review the VPN settings, configure them if required, and you are ready to connect to the VPN server of any country of your choice.
Here are the steps to install and set up a VPN on Android:
- Go to your Android device’s Settings.
- Tap on Network & internet, and then VPN. If you can’t locate it, search for “VPN”. If still not found, take your device manufacturer’s help.
- Tap on the VPN of your choice.
- Log in using your username and password.
- Tap on Connect.
- The VPN app will open.
Pros and Cons of Using a VPN
A VPN is a great way for an individual or organization to ensure privacy and security by hiding users’ online activities from prying eyes. Although a VPN service offers a variety of benefits, it cannot be considered a perfect technology. Let’s explore the pros and cons of VPN services.
|Pros of VPN
|Cons of VPN
|Secures online activities and data by encrypting traffic and online activity.
|Reduction in Internet connection speed.
|Your data is kept safe from prying eyes by encrypting online actions.
|Some VPNs may keep your activity logs and sell the data to third parties.
|Enables users to access geo-blocked content.
|Free or low-quality VPNs might not be capable enough to encrypt your data.
|Takes away ISP’s control over bandwidth limitation.
|On using shared-IP VPNs, your IP may be blacklisted.
|Reduces cost and burden on the IT team.
|Some TVs and gaming consoles do not support VPNs.
In short, VPN is a useful service that lets you enjoy a lot of perks while browsing the Internet. In addition to securing your data and protecting it from hackers, such a service also allows you to overcome geo-restrictions and gives true meaning to “free Internet”. With an Internet connection safeguarded with a reliable and efficient VPN, you can have ample peace of mind as you surf the online world. But not every VPN is the same, and you shouldn’t blindly select the one you see first. Read reviews, research, and rely on market reputation to choose the best VPN Provider that suits your purpose.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are VPNs Safe?
VPNs are capable of protecting your IP address and encrypting your Internet browsing history only. However, they are not capable enough to keep you safe while visiting phishing websites or downloading questionable content.
2. Is using a VPN legal?
In some countries, using VPNs to browse the Internet is banned. Even in countries where it is allowed, it’s illegal to use VPN to visit sites that are banned in those particular countries.
3. Are VPNs easy to use?
Yes, VPNs are easy to use but not all VPNs are not so easy to be used by beginners.
4. Do VPNs guarantee 100% anonymity?
VPNs can ensure privacy and security while browsing the Internet from third parties, hackers, data collectors, targeted advertisers, etc, but technically speaking no VPN offers complete anonymity while you are online.
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